the name isn’t important

the name isn’t important

We failed. Failure tasted sweet: a bag of M&S Percy Pigs consumed on the floor of the train to London Euston from Milton Keynes Central (with zero guilt).

Royal Leamington Spa was the ambitious destination for our Grand Union Canal based cycling adventure – because it sounded grand – by Sunday lunchtime, somewhere between Tring and Leighton Buzzard we’d settled for Milton Keynes (by then not caring that it sounded crap).

Brentford to Milton Keynes by the Grand Union Canal Towpath.

the canal

115km barely scratched below the surface of the canal and its mystique – I can’t do it justice in just one post.  Nor its humble towpath, the supporting act to the main event of the dead calm canal waters, that transported us from urban to rural, through town and country, through industrial wastelands and into open fields.

There was no need for complicated navigation, minimal turns, few junctions, no competing vehicles or traffic lights, it guided us all the way.  Not quite an autopilot but close, leaving us to enjoy a journey through Autumn’s clear skied, golden leaved explosion of colours; doubled up in sublime reflections in the canal waters.

the riding

Canal towpaths are flat. Easy then? Not exactly. You’re pushing on all the time.  No coasting as the terrain is too rough, no drafting as you need to see the obstacles on the path ahead, no relaxing either as a frozen puzzle or greasy cobble could pitch you into the November-cold canal waters.

Hunger was a constant, gnawing at our stomachs – the result of constant unrelenting calorie burning on the ever-changing surface, morphing through smooth-ish tarmac, squirming gravel, rutted track, smooth mud, sumptuous leaf carpet (hiding tree roots), thick grass.  We all complained that our chamois cream hadn’t lasted the distance. Mine had barely made it to Watford (and I was double-shorting!)  We weren’t in control.  This was the antithesis to road biking.

the bike

The bike did well.  Nothing fell off.  Not even a puncture.  Clearance was an issue at the end.  It’s ‘steel is real’ frame clunked over any terrain the towpath could throw its way. It’s weight probably an advantage as it soaked up and ironed out the unrelenting ruts and bumps, not bucking up and down but ploughing onwards stoically, without drama. What more could I want?

I want a proper adventure bike like the other 2!

the end?

To the contrary, this felt like the start of something new, fathoming out the canal, its history, secrets and ways of life.  France by Gravel Bike may have to wait for Little England by Canal Towpath.

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you’re fooling no one with that

you’re fooling no one with that

Adventure Road Bikes are still not a satisfactorily scratched itch.  So, I got one.  If it looks suspiciously like my old steel commuter with 32c size tyres and thick handlebar tape. It’s because it is.

This itch has got worse, more irritating, more urgent as I’ve stumbled upon an adventure for an adventure road bike: Riding the Grand Union Canal north from Brentford (London) as far as we can get in 6 hours (which might only be Milton Keynes).

Why’s the itch so bad?

Because I don’t have an adventure road bike.  I’ve got an old steel commuter with too-big tyres and zero clearance.  Or more accurately only 2mm clearance between the rear tyre and the front derailleur braze on the downtube.  Or even more accurately: a perfect mud/dirt/leaf/stone-catching bike clogger.

The guys I’m riding with are armed with bona-fide Adventure Road bikes.  They’re early adopters and evangelical with regards adventure road bikes.  I’m worried that having roped them into the Grand Union Adventure I’m going to ruin it by grinding to a slow, painful clogged up stop.  Probably in the outskirts of Brentford.

The itch got so bad.  In this afternoon’s driving rain, I went for a test ride on the Tamsin Trail around Richmond Park to ease my fears or at least realise them early.  The Tamsin trail is for runners and leisurely cyclists – not somewhere the serious cyclist would venture.

Except that in the rain the 7-mile perimeter trail is suitably gravelly-muddy and littered with sodden, slippery leaves, an appealing blazing carpet of red, oranges and golds that distracts from their treacherous slipperiness.  A nightmare for a road bike.  Perfect for an adventure road bike.

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Conclusion A) My old steel commuter even with big tyres is not an adventure road bike and 6 hours on the Grand Union Canal starting at 6am this Sunday morning is going to be an adventure (of sorts…)

Conclusion B) You don’t have to go far or spend big to enjoy yourself in a whole new way.  Try some big tyres and thick handlebar tape on an unloved old bike and make something unexpected out of nothing, turn routine on its head and see what you take for granted a little differently.

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